Monday, February 07, 2011

127 HOURS - Boyle's Searing Tale of Survival

127 HOURS (adventure thriller)
Cast: James Franco, Lizzy Caplan, Kate Mara and Amber Tamblyn
Director: Danny Boyle
Screenplay: Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy, based on the book Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston
Time: 94 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)

James Franco, Kate Mara and Amber Tamblyn in 127 Hours

PREAMBLE: This is the true story of mountain climber Aron Ralston's remarkable adventure in the isolated Blue John Canyon in Utah in 2003. Ralston is climbing down a shaft in the canyon when a boulder crashes on his arm and traps him. Over the next five days, Ralston examines his life and survives the elements to finally discover that he has the courage and the strength to extricate himself by whatever means necessary, scale a 65 foot wall and hike over eight miles before he is finally rescued. His ordeal was documented on various TV shows and publications in the US.

A far cry from his 2009 Slumdog Millionaire, Danny Boyle's 127 Hours is a depiction of Ralston's story and what it takes to stay alive.

WHAT'S IT ABOUT: The first 15 minutes of the film capture the glorious landscape of the Utah canyon, accompanied by A.R. Rahman's throbbing music score. They also serve the dual purpose of introducing us to the self-assured and cocky Ralston (James Franco), as well as give us a feel the area's vastness and desolation.

Ralston encounters a pair of female hikers (Amber Tamblin and Kate Mara) and helps them find their way to their destination before he continues on his own. It's not long, however, before a mishap results in him tumbling down a shaft and getting trapped at the bottom when a boulder crushes his arm against a tunnel wall. He tries everything within his power to free himself but the tools at his disposal are limited. As his supply of water dwindles, Aron realises he may die there unless he makes some difficult decisions.

HITS & MISSES: Two things go through my mind as I watch Ralston getting trapped in the canyon: one, that he deserves it for being so irresponsible as to venture out alone without telling anyone where he was going; and two, that he should have been better prepared, especially with his Swiss Army gadgets and drinks that he left behind. However, when Boyle starts showing flashbacks of Ralston's memories and hallucinations, I begin to sympathise with him and even root for him. Ralston may be cocky but his self-confidence is remarkable. He does not wallow in despair. Instead, he allows himself a little self-mockery (which I must agree, is a great distraction from the trapped sequences).

The movie reminds me of Ryan Reynolds' Buried, but it is not as desperate or as claustrophobic. Ralston's decision to free himself results in one of the most gruesome sequences we will see on screen and forms the movie's climax. Undoubtedly, Franco gives one of his best performances here (compared with his other lightweight performances) but I don't see him taking home an Oscar for it.

THE LOWDOWN: Another searing and uplifting film by Boyle and his writing partner Simon Beaufoy.

127 HOURS, an Oscar contender, opens in Malaysia on March 3, 2011


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